The professional body representing GPs has warned that an entire generation will be “destroyed” by a diet of junk food and sugary drinks unless urgent action is taken.
In an open letter to the Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Royal College of General Practitioners and 11 partner organisations said a national Child Obesity Action Group should be formed as “a matter of urgency”.
The taskforce would be similar to the Government’s Cobra panel, which deals with terrorism and national disasters, and would allow them to call up a “battalion” of health professionals, including doctors, dentists and schools, to try and stop children developing health problems in later life.
Although obesity is, after smoking, the second biggest reversible factor in cancers, just three per cent of people associate weight with cancer.
The doctors behind the letter called “at the very least” for a tax on sugary drinks – a call rebuffed by the Government yesterday.
The RCGP’s clinical lead for nutrition, Dr Rachel Pryke, said: “The nutritional patterns laid out in early years can define a child’s health for life and the stark fact is that overweight children are being set up for a lifetime of sickness and health problems.
“As parents and health professionals, we need to take responsibility and ensure that every child has a healthy and varied diet and regular exercise.”
They are calling for a raft of measures including increased support for the National Child Measurement Programme and improved investment in data-gathering IT programmes for weight management.
Other proposals include more training in malnutrition and obesity for GPs and other health professionals and outreach projects to educate families about the dangers of obesity.
Dr Pryke said child obesity treatment was “a postcode lottery”, with many areas having limited or no services at all.
“We cannot allow our young people to become malnourished, squandering their childhood and vitality hunched over computer consoles and gorging on junk food,” she added.
“We have reached a state of emergency with childhood obesity and the current threat to public health is most definitely ‘severe’.
Doctors say the size of the challenge is summed up by seven-year-olds being diagnosed with type two diabetes – a disease previously only associated with the middle-aged.
The RCGP’s clinical lead for cancer, Dr Richard Roope, said: “For the first time, we have a generation of patients who may predecease their parents.
“We are in denial. Our children are currently amongst the most overweight in Europe.
“Radical steps need to be taken – at the very least levying tax on sugary drinks. We’ve seen this approach work with smoking where there was a notable fall in the number of smokers once prices were increased.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman confirmed the Chief Medical Officer would formally respond “in due course”.
She added: “Tackling obesity is one of our major priorities, but there is no magic bullet to solve the problem, and everyone has a role to play. We know that childhood obesity is at its lowest since 1998 but more should be done. The Government is not considering a sugar tax.”